Environment & Science

California's new climate plan uses incentives to cut vehicle emissions

Seeking to cut greenhouse gas emissions in California by 40 percent by 2030, state regulators have approved a plan that offers incentives for truck and bus fleets to go green.
Seeking to cut greenhouse gas emissions in California by 40 percent by 2030, state regulators have approved a plan that offers incentives for truck and bus fleets to go green.
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California has the toughest air quality regulations of any state in the country. But they're not tough enough to satisfy a new state law that requires California to double the rate at which it cuts greenhouse gases.

So this month, the California Air Resources Board approved a plan it says is aimed at "decarbonizing" the state's economy.

The plan seeks, by 2030, to cut greenhouse gas emissions in the state by 40 percent from 1990 levels. The board projects that the plan will save $11 billion in avoided environmental damage.

The key to the plan is to get more clean cars and trucks on the road.

The state extended or approved programs that offer incentives to buy zero-emission vehicles. The plan encourages the deployment of zero-emission trucks and spending more to shift to cleaner systems for the large amount of freight that enters the state (three of the country's top 10 ports by volume are in California: the ports of Los Angeles, Long Beach and Oakland).

The plan, which aims to cut or eliminate diesel trucks, provides $208 million in incentives for truck and bus fleets to go green by purchasing electric vehicles. Another $190 million will go toward making freight operations less polluting. You can imagine electric forklifts.

More than 20 manufacturers offer 60 eligible models of hybrid, low-emission and zero-emission trucks and buses, according to Trucks.com. The incentives, at nearly $400 million, have already sparked competition, it reported:

"Such incentives are expected to encourage the purchase of electric trucks and powertrains like those that Tesla Inc., Cummins Inc., BYD Inc. and Mitsubishi Fuso are planning or are already selling. Electric heavy-duty trucks typically sell for 20 percent to 30 percent more than comparable diesel vehicles. The incentives will help offset the difference. The funding also will underwrite sales of clean natural gas trucks and other green technologies."

Though much of the plan is directed at transportation, California also is taking steps that would curb emissions in other parts of the economy. Under a renewed cap-and-trade program, it will be more expensive to emit and dispose of super pollutants such as refrigerants or methane.

The board's plan provides guidelines for the state's electric utilities to use renewable sources for half their energy by 2030. It provides money for everything from investing in and developing clean fuel technology.

The plan also calls for doubling the number of electric charging stations in California. This initiative will be aided by $800 million in fines from Volkswagen, to mitigate damage from the automaker's diesel emissions scandal.

This all comes while the Environmental Protection Agency, under Administrator Scott Pruitt, appears set to roll back federal fuel economy rules. California is the one state that can set its own emissions rules under the Clean Air Act of 1970, subject to a waiver. Other states can follow California's lead or the federal government's lead but they aren't allowed to strike out on their own.

California has asked for and received a waiver to make tougher rules than the federal government. Pruitt has said EPA is not reviewing California's special status, though environmental groups are poised to fight.

Mary Nichols, chair of the California Air Resources Board, says the state will continue to set tough rules. "I think there's no question that our vehicle emissions standards have been the most influential and will continue to be," she tells NPR.

Nichols says it would be hard for the auto industry to ignore the state since China and other countries are following California's lead when it comes to climate change.

Pointing to changing consumer awareness and a determination by other countries to curb carbon emissions, she says "the demand is growing around the world for very efficient, very clean, essentially no-pollution vehicles. That's a path we're on and will continue to stay on."

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